Top critical review
My Humble Opinion
on March 18, 2002
James Joyce is a hero. Writing with a exceptionally unique style that fits the corresponding drama perfectly, he is able to involve several underlying themes that help advance the meaning of the book. The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is rich in detail and offers vital insights into Joyce?s art of portraying the internal struggles that all of us face within the drama of a single character, Stephen Dedalus. Perhaps the most salient brilliance of Joyce?s ability is painting the picture of simbolism and theme to allow the reader to internalize everything he reads.
The book opens in a rather ambiguous way. Jumbled phrases across the opening pages provoke images of confusion and disorder in the reader?s mind. Joyce masters the Stream of Consciousness style of writing, which reflects the spontaeous thought process that all of us experience. It is especially notable at the beginning when he describes the unfocused thoughts of the baby Stephen. With a light touch of humor Joyce reminds us how simple life was for all of us back then when all we had to worry about was the discomfort of ?wetting the bed?
The reader then re-lives his life as he joins in with Stephen?s. We are first exposed to the unjust treatment from others when the bully Wells shoves Stephen into the nearby cesspool. The imagery is more than intense here when he comes out of the pool grimy, disgusting, and smelling like a sewer. Joyce even pencils in the detail about rats wallowing around in the pool. The theme of unjustice continues as Stephen is punished publicly for losing his glasses, something that he had no control over. The Catholic Father Dolan flogs him across the hands for ?intentionally? losing them so he wouldn?t have to study.
Another interesting piece of information that James Joyce includes for the benefit of the reader putting himself in the place of Stephen is the theme of physical beauty. Stephen experiences love all throughout the piece, starting first with the innocent love notes that he writes to a small girl his age, building to the prostitute with whom he has his first sexual experience, and culminating finally with the woman on the beach who he is infatuated with. This sexual passion arouses sympathetic feelings within the reader from all backgrounds. Everyone has experienced that true feeling of wanting to be with someone else.
My favorite part in the story is how Joyce deals with the issue of remaining true to religion, particularly the Catholic Church. Stephen is troubled by the fact that there is so much corruption within the church. He sees the imperfections within the church, but yet he somehow continues. Other characters present Joyce with the opportunity to let us look deep into the heart of Stephen and examine how he struggles. Much of Joyce?s audience has struggled with the decision of remaining true to the Catholic Church in spite of its many corruptions, or pioneering a new generation of religious loyalty elsewhere.
Towards the end of the novel Joyce touches on a reoccuring theme: freedom. Being free from religion as well as being free from Ireland (or the restraints that bound some individual). Again Joyce delicately works his way into the lives of his readers; all are faced with decisions of leaving their past lives, whether they be entrapped in the pits of smoking or the despair of being overweight, all of the readers of Jame Joyce are faced with that decision sooner or later. Stephen sees his escape from the island with drawing back to strength from the Greek artisan Dedalus, who crafted his own wings to escape. It seems that all of us somehow need to draw on strength from the past to give us motivation for the future. Many rely on examples from their parents. Others trust in counsel and advice given through the scriptures. All are in search of help from the past to live a better future.
All in all, Joyce masters his work and is able to assist the reader in making his own decisions in his own life while doing it through the life of his central character. If I were anything but American, I might consider moving to Ireland.